Top Court Lifts Order Against Bringing 3,000 Ethiopians to Israel

The cabinet decided to approve the group's immigration to Israel in November, before a petition challenging their Jewish roots halted the process in its tracks

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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Members of the Ethiopian community demonstrate outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, November 2021.
Members of the Ethiopian community demonstrate outside the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, November 2021.Credit: Emil Salman
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday lifted the temporary injunction against bringing 3,000 Ethiopian citizens to Israel, clearing the route for their immigration.

In November, the cabinet approved bringing Ethiopians of Jewish descent with first degree relatives to Israel amid the outbreak of war in the Tigray region, before a petition halted the decision in its tracks.

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The High Court petition, spearheaded by the Israeli Immigration Policy Center (Eitan) NGO – which “promotes immigration policy that serves the strategic interests of the State of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state” – claimed that most of the potential immigrants are not Jewish.

As a result, the High Court issued the temporary injunction in February freezing their aliyah, until the petition was withdrawn by the organizations on Tuesday.

The decision means that those waiting in transit camps in Addis Ababa and Gondar can therefore be brought to Israel.

In the hearing held on Tuesday, a lawyer representing the government noted that the Ethiopian citizens were willing to convert to Judaism through the state-sanctioned process, and warned that the group faces a “shortage of medicine, growing crime and stray bullets that have killed six members of the community.”

Members of the Ethiopian community demonstrate in front of the Ministry of the Interior in Jerusalem, January. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

A letter from about a month ago from the Jewish Agency for Israel representative in Ethiopia, Adana Adalah, was attached to the government’s reply to the petition. He wrote that crimes against the group waiting in the camps are rising, such as kidnappings and ransom demands. Those now in Gondar are also in danger because of the wars between gangs in the region. “The situation is fluid and explosive, and makes it difficult to move around during the daylight – and all the more so at night, so much so that they do not leave their homes,” wrote Adalah.

Aychlutm Masala, the lawyer who represents the Israeli relatives of those waiting in Ethiopia, also told the court that the petition “is another thing that is tearing apart this community. These people arrived first and these people came last, but it is one community, which has been forced against its will to defend its Judaism in spite of the difficulties. Some have committed suicide and some converted to Christianity. There are entire communities here in Israel that have been waiting for 30 years. The petition that is preventing their reunification is anti-democratic and anti-Zionist.”

The cabinet decision was meant to implement a previous decision from 2015, which said all those waiting in Ethiopia to make aliyah with relatives in Israel would be brought here – but this decision was never fully implemented. This decision includes families that have been waiting for decades to see their relatives – including children who made aliyah without their parents. The resolution was proposed by Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata in coordination with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, and was approved with the agreement of the health and foreign ministries.

Tamano-Shata thanked the justices on Tuesday for rejecting the “outrageous petition, which I regret also cost lives. The decision to bring the remnants of Ethiopia’s Jews, who have first degree relatives in Israel, was passed unanimously by the cabinet in November. Those waiting in Ethiopia suffered more than enough while they are separated from their family, parents, siblings, children and others. The war in Ethiopia and coronavirus pandemic made their situation worse and the time has come to bring them home to Israel,” she said.

The Israeli Immigration Policy Center, one of the petitioners, said: “Regrettably, in the face of the government’s efforts to bring in non-Jews who are not eligible under the Law of Return, the justices have chosen this cynical approach. The court has left the keys to the aliyah to Israel from Ethiopia in the hands of private wheeler-dealers with foreign interests. The Israeli Immigration Policy Center will continue to act in the public sphere in order to explain to the citizens of Israel the weightiness of the matter and its consequences.”

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